Phil was born and raised in northern Minnesota, where he learned to appreciate fresh vegetables from the garden and the beauty of the north woods. He graduated from the University of Minnesota, Duluth in the mid-1980's with a major in computer science and minors in mathematics and accounting. While working as an accountant for a company in Muscatine, Iowa for a couple of years, he met and married Denise. They left Iowa in their first year of marriage and, for the next 20+ years, Phil worked as a computer programmer for two different companies. He loves music (playing piano), books, fishing, and helping people become disciples of Jesus.
Denise tells people that she is a Midwest girl. She was born in South Dakota (because that was the hospital closest to their Nebraska home), raised in Iowa, and lived in Minnesota most of her married life. She studied early childhood education at North Central University until she met Phil (her Dad introduced us). Not only that, but she loves crafts, sewing, baking cookies, and being with people.
We were married in 1988 and have two daughters. Our oldest daughter is living in Minnesota, adapting to life post-university. Our youngest daughter will be a senior in high school while we are itinerating. We left our home in Minnesota in 2010 to live in Ukraine for two years, spent time back in America to raise support, returned to Ukraine in 2014, and in the summer of 2018 we left Ukraine for 12-18 months of itineration. We absolutely love living in Ukraine at this time in history!
You may ask, "Of all the places in the world, why did you choose Ukraine?" That is a great question! The short answer is that we did not choose Ukraine. God did, and we are just following His leading. Here is the longer answer, including how we got to where we are today.
Being missionaries was really not on our radar 13-15 years ago. Phil loved his programming job (and still did when he left in 2010). We were content living the American dream, always living in cities of 25,000 or less, and serving God in our local church.
In 1996, God was dealing with Phil about something - and finally we understood that it was time for a job change. We took a 30% cut in pay to move from his hometown to another city, where we did not know anyone. It was less than two years, and his salary was much larger than the one we left behind. Only God could have taken care of us in that way.
In 2002, we switched churches and started attending Waseca (MN) Christian Assembly (an Assemblies of God church), where Brad Wickersheim was (and still is) the pastor. In 2005, he went to Ukraine, and specifically to Krivoy Rog, with his best friend from college. When he got back from that trip, he told Phil that he needed to go to Ukraine the next year. Surprisingly, Phil agreed. He had never been on a missions trip anywhere and really disliked public speaking, but he prepared to go and preach anyway.
Honestly, there were things about the trip that Phil did not enjoy, but there were a lot more things that he loved. However, he wrote in his journal on the flight home (as he caught up from the last few days of the trip), "I had a great time, but don't think I'll ever go back." On the same airplane, but away from Phil, Pastor Brad told one of the other guys with us that he thought we would serve as missionaries in Ukraine someday. (That remained a secret for a few years!) Phil actually returned in 2007, with Denise in 2008, and without her in 2009. Not returning was not an option!
In the months that followed, Phil realized that God was calling us to be missionaries. And not just to "somewhere", but to the people of Ukraine. Phil tried to argue with God, telling Him that there was not much that he could do, because, as he told God, "I am not a pastor or a preacher." (He is still not a pastor, but he has not only accepted the role of preacher, but enjoys it. There are many who preach better than he does, but he knows how God has specifically gifted him, and he tries to preach to the best of his ability). Because you cannot win an argument with God, Phil agreed - and told Denise that God was calling us to be missionaries. She simply said, "OK." And then she told God that He needed to call her as well. God is faithful - and He did just that.
We started the application process with Assemblies of God World Missions late in 2007, but when Phil's Mom got very sick and died February 4, 2008, he took time to grieve. But in the fall of 2008, we once again got serious about pursuing appointment as Missionary Associates (because I was not a pastor) - and received approval from AGWM in the spring of 2009. Phil told the people above him at work about our plans at the beginning of 2009, so that they heard it from him and not somewhere else. They were disappointed, but were glad to use his skills for as long as he would be able to work (which ended up being almost 1.5 years). One coworker reminded Phil often that "we cannot miss you if you do not leave."
We moved to Krivoy Rog in June 2010, living and serving there until March 2012. At that time we moved to Simferopol, Crimea, just until the end of May 2012. We expected that the Krivoy Rog chapter of our lives was finished forever. While we were home itinerating for two years, Russia took Crimea in February 2014, and it became impossible for us to return and to serve there. In June 2014, we decided to return to Ukraine and to live in Kiev until we determined a plan for the future. We moved to Kiev in August 2014. There, Phil studied Russian the first six months.
For the next six months, he worked on a project for our Area Director, researching population and attempting to understand where the evangelical church in Ukraine was working. This was difficult because their last census was 2001 and the war in the East meant that many refugees now live in different places, without any way to account for them. He attempted to report on population based on what data he could access by location, by ethnicity, and by age. Determining where the church was working was difficult, if not nearly impossible, for a number of reasons. But the end result was good. At best, we understand that the number of evangelical born again believers are just 2.5% of the population of Ukraine. And the largest ethnic group that needs to hear the gospel is the Slavic people - those who are Ukrainian or Russian. As a result, God opened our eyes and showed us that we should partner with the Churches of Praise in Krivoy Rog, to encourage them in their church planting endeavors. Our leadership agreed, and in September 2015, we moved back to Krivoy Rog again.
We immediately saw that God was in this move and started reaping benefits from the relationships that we built the first two years we were in Ukraine. Those relationships have deepened and multiplied over the last 3 years. We continue to be amazed at God's hand in all of this process and are excited about all that we have seen God do in and through us during our entire lives, but especially since we returned to Krivoy Rog, much more than we had ever dreamed or imagined. Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT) says, "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." His plans are always BEST!
In early January 2016, we went to a youth retreat - and God showed us that we are called to minister to youth. That means participating in youth camps, retreats, conferences, youth services, and leading a cell group for youth. Currently, Phil is leading a cell group for young men, and Denise will soon be leading a cell group for young women. It is exciting to be part of the process of making disciples!
We look forward to all the great things that God has in store for the people of Ukraine - and to be a small part in what He is going to do!